Everest Deaths Linked to Crowding on the Mountain

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Aaron Schachter: Three climbers died on Mount Everest this weekend. They reportedly died of exhaustion and altitude sickness on their way down, after reaching the summit. Two more climbers are missing. The world's highest mountain is said to be in a particularly dangerous condition this year and one respected expedition organizer canceled his group's entire season earlier this month. But Everest is still more crowded than ever. Chris Bonington is one of Britain's most experienced mountain climbers, having first tackled Everest in 1961. He says things have become considerably more dangerous because of the upsurge in commercial expeditions.

Chris Bonington: Once you have that and you have guides and you have fixed ropes, it means that comparatively inexperienced people who can afford to pay the fee, which is believe is something between twenty five and sixty thousand dollars, you know, you get people of all kinds of abilities going. And they can cope with it provided everything goes all right. What I think happens, I don't know exactly what happened on this present accident, but I rather gathered that there was a change of weather, there was bad weather on top, and suddenly these comparatively inexperienced people are in a situation that they can't cope with.

Schachter: So we have too many people with too little experience climbing. Is this a case for more regulation do you think?

Bonington: Climbers don't like regulation. I don't like regulation, but once you have kind of guided climbing and once you have huge numbers, I think there needs to be some kind of regulation. I think there should be a limit to a numbers that you actually have on Everest at one time. And one of the problems here is that the South Col of Everest is big, it's about the size of a football pitch. So you can get a large encampment on the South Col. But then when a window of opportunity occurs, the weather is good, everyone wants to grab that window of opportunity when the forecast is good and so you can get a hundred and fifty, two hundred people setting out one morning or one night to get to the top of Everest all in the same day, and that's when you get bottlenecks, you get people queuing, you get people waiting for an hour, two and a half hours. That hour or two and a half hours, if the weather if beginning to change, could be a matter of life and death.

Schachter: It would seem to the uninitiated that safety in numbers is generally a rule. In this case it's the opposite.

Bonington: It's very, very definitely the opposite, and especially when it's not only numbers, but it's large numbers of comparatively inexperienced people in some instances. And I think there's a real need now for the mountaineering countries, the operators themselves, and the Nepalese government to sit down and have a really serious kind of conference to decide how do we make every Everest not only a safer place to climb on for larger numbers, but also a much pleasanter place where climbers and clients can have a much more enjoyable and safer kind of experience.

Schachter: Mountaineer Chris Bonington, many thanks for your time.

Bonington: Good to talk to you.